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Archive for the ‘Visual Arts’ Category

Challenge and Care: An Interview with Tania El Khoury by Monica Uszerowicz

Posted July 24th, 2018

In Tania El Khoury’s immersive installation and theater piece Gardens Speak, 2014, audience members put on raincoats and enter a cemetery where they are given a card written with an Arabic name. Matching it to a tombstone, they lie in soft graves of dirt, ear to the ground, and listen to a story whispered from beneath the soil, told by the dead themselves. If they wish, they can leave a note in response, folded and buried.

These narratives are reconstructed from the families and friends of the deceased, all of whom were dissidents of President Assad who were killed during the uprising in Syria and buried in home or community gardens. Syrian cemeteries are often too full, and large funerals became potential regime targets, putting grieving families at risk. Gardens Speak was developed in 2014, a response to the struggle against Assad’s dictatorship and the collaborative, protective relationship between the living and the dead. Piecing these histories together, El Khoury renders physical the idea that the ground beneath our feet contains multitudinous, literal lives.

Born in Lebanon, El Khoury is based between London and Beirut, where she cofounded the performance collaborative Dictaphone Group. During this year’s Miami Art Week at the Fillmore Miami Beach, and as presented by MDC Live Arts, she will share Gardens Speak and As Far As My Fingertips Take Me, 2017, another participatory project. [These works are presented in the series ear-whispered: works by Tania El Khoury as part of the 2018 Fringe Festival.] Here, audience members allow their arms to be drawn upon by El Khoury’s collaborator, Basel Zaraa, who remains unseen behind a wall. I understand listening and touching as their own kind of dissidence, as both art form and intentional practice. Horror and confusion on a mass scale are heartbreaking, then numbing; it is easier to understand sociopolitical upheaval when you are connected, heart-to-heart, to another story.

— Monica Uszerowicz

Monica Uszerowicz: You developed Gardens Speak in 2014. Americans have the forced context of both Trump and new refugee crises through which to view seemingly everything. How has the project’s meaning grown for you since its original impetus, if at all?

Tania El Khoury: I see Gardens Speak in the political context of Syria rather than the American context. What the piece does now, almost four years later, is remind us that what we perceive as a “war” in Syria started as a legitimate and popular uprising against a four-decade-long dictatorship. It also reminds us of the root of the displacement of Syrians, which we’ve been witnessing in the form of large numbers of refugees. The stories in Gardens Speak speak volumes about the responsibility of the Syrian regime in turning a peaceful uprising into a violent war, and in displacing people locally and internationally.

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Revelatory Hours: An Interview With Elizabeth Huston

Posted March 26th, 2018

“New means change the method, new methods change the experience, and new experiences change man… Whenever we hear sounds, we are changed, we are no longer the same, and this is the more the case when we hear organized sounds, organized by another human being; music.”

Coming from most, these words might not ring as all that profound, but coming from Karlheinz Stockhausen—easily one of the most important figures in the development of 20th and 21st century music—they take on a much greater resonance. One would be hard-pressed to find another composer who did more to challenge and retune the ears of musicians and listeners alike in the last century than the enigmatic genius, but the kind of change to which he was referring wasn’t one of alteration, but one of revelation. To him, music was a prompt for self-discovery. “I think [music] is only a means, it’s like a spiritual food, and it will be used by certain people who discover a certain identity of what they are and what’s there vibrating. They choose more of it, they like it—liking means, as I always say, remembering. When I like something, then I discover something that I have been before, that is profoundly already within me. It resonates, like a piano that you hit,”  he offered towards the end of a 1971 lecture.

This April, FringeArts will present Stockhausen’s KLANG, a day-long performance of the storied composer’s final, unfinished work, and the presentation is sure to provide attendees with hitherto unseen and unheard sonic experiences. In fact, this presentation will be the first time anyone will have the opportunity to hear the work in its entirety in a single day—all 21 completed compositions of the intended 24. Charting the soul’s journey from the body into the afterlife and featuring music that ranges from intimate chamber pieces to head-spinning electronic explorations, the program provides audiences space to reflect on time, spirituality, reality, and the meaning of mortality. As captivating as so many of KLANG‘s pieces are, at its core the work is deeply meditative, reflecting Stockhausen’s philosophy of music as a tool for self-discovery and, in turn, transformation.

Recently, we caught up with Elizabeth Huston—harpist, educator, curator, and co-organizer of the presentation—to learn more about the background of this landmark work, how this presentation and its assembly of collaborators came together, and what audiences can expect at this all-day event come April.

FringeArts: How did the idea of performing KLANG with these collaborators come about? 

Photo by Klaus Rudolph

Elizabeth Huston: In 2014 I had the idea of planning a performance of all of Luciano Berio’s Sequenzas for the 2014 Fringe Festival. The Sequenzas are 14 different pieces written by Berio over the course of his career (1958 to 2002). I noticed while researching the pieces how Berio’s “voice” changed and evolved while Berio grew as a composer, even though each piece of the series keeps his distinct voice and perspective. I decided to search for more sets of pieces like that, and found quite a few, which resulted in me starting my Composit series. The second performance was all of Davidovsky’s Synchronisms, and this will be the third.

Stockhausen’s KLANG is a little different. Instead of being pieces written over the course of Stockhausen’s life, they are the last pieces he wrote (2004-2007). He died hours after completing the twenty-first Hour of KLANG, making this his final opus, the culmination of his life’s work. Since this piece was intended to be composed of 24 Hours, it is especially poignant as a reminder that we all die with unfinished business.

These pieces are notoriously challenging and dense, so I knew I needed collaborators on many fronts. Joe Drew worked with Stockhausen personally and knows his work intimately, so I am running my ideas by him to ensure an authentic communication of Stockhausen’s vision. MusikFabrik also knew Stockhausen personally, and they will be coaching our other performers, ensuring the highest quality performances possible. Stockhausen assigned each of the twenty-one parts of KLANG a specific color which is important to communicate. Thomas Dunn was a perfect fit for lighting design as he is known as a painter of light and can use colors incredibly effectively in his lighting. Finally, these pieces are very theatrical and musicians are not always the best actors, so we roped in Adrienne Mackey to push our performers to embrace the duality of these pieces and bring them to life.

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The History of Cherdonna Shinatra: From Name to Fame

Posted February 23rd, 2018

Photo by Lou Daprile

This weekend, Seattle-based dancer and choreographer Jody Kuehner, aka Cherdonna Shinatra, will take the stage in all her queer drag glory for Clock that Mug or Dusted. It’s sure to be a wild ride, one filled with live installation art, dance, birthday cake, found objects, and a commentary on all things queer feminism. While getting ready for Ms. Shinatra to perform, I feel it’s important to discuss where her stage name derives from and the journey she has gone through to make it to this point.

The first artist in her name is none other than Cher, the Goddess of Pop, known for songs like “I Got You Babe,” and she’s “got” the queer community on her side. Cher has become a gay icon, in part through her son Chaz, but also for her sense of style and fashion. Drag queens—specifically Chad Michaels and Charlie Hides from RuPaul’s Drag Race—have imitated her, feeling that her struggle and story relates to their coming out processes. Madonna, the other half of Cherdonna’s namesake, is another another legend worth talking about. The Queen of Pop, known for bestsellers including “Like a Virgin,” is also considered a gay icon. She was introduced to the queer community as a teenager, and since then, has been a welcome presence. Like Cher, many drag queens have imitated her, seeing her journey to stardom as very similar to their struggles. And then we have Frank Sinatra who, while not necessarily a gay icon, was a legendary singer known for classics like “My Way.” Adding his name at the end of her stage name cements Cherdonna Shinatra as the legend that she is. In discussing the origin of her character, she also offers, “I feel like Cherdonna is an extension of myself in a way that’s not like an ‘other’… For me it’s a heightened version—more or less myself, or my less censored self.”

Courtesy of the artist

Cherdonna’s work has been shown in every major venue in Washington State and all over the country, but she hasn’t always been alone in the spotlight. From 2008-2013 she performed with Ricki Mason, also known as drag king Lou Henry Hoover, as “The Cherdonna and Lou Show.” The character of Cherdonna started with Lou in this cabaret-style series of performances which often included dance, theater, drag, burlesque, glitter, and featured celebrity impersonations, including an infamous Sonny and Cher routine. Both artists would transcend their queer identities with how they presented themselves on stage—Cherdonna with her long legs, platform heels, big blonde hair, and copious makeup and Lou as a petite drag king wearing a neat mustached face and all. In a 2016 interview, Kuehner commented on her and Mason’s stage duo’s gender play, noting, “We’re both queer people, and we had started diving into more work about gender and gender play… Over the last six years, it’s been diving in more. I got hooked, and just felt there was so much to explore in it.” Kuehner performing drag as the gender that she identifies with is a revolutionary concept, as it transcends what the audience expects from drag.

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Ready, Set, Sew: An Interview With Theatre SKAM

Posted January 15th, 2018

Since its founding in 1995, Victoria, BC’s Theatre SKAM has built a strong reputation for their innovative theatrical works. From intimate, elegant plays to boundary-pushing site-specific performances, they always seem to be actively widening the scope of what a contemporary theater company can, and should, do. Case in point: Fashion Machine.

SKAM will bring this widely acclaimed theater/design/education project to FringeArts later this month. Gathering a group of 28 local children, ages 9-13, SKAM artists will lead these budding fashionistas through a few days of intensive training and teaching. They’ll learn about the history and current state of fashion, play some drama games, and, most importantly, learn all the fabrication skills they’ll need to invite a handful of lucky audience members into the Fashion Machine. From January 23-27, these children will take the outfits of seven brave (and willing!) audience members and, over the course of an hour, transform them into something entirely new.

Recently we spoke with two of the projects core artists, Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward, to learn more about how this wild work came together, the benefits of working with children, and the experience of the performance.

From the 2014 premiere of Fashion Machine.

FringeArts: How did the idea for Fashion Machine first come about?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: In 2009 SKAM co-presented the show Haircuts by Children in Victoria by a Toronto company called Mammalian Diving Reflex. We were in the room as children participated in training sessions with a professional hairstylist. It was remarkable to see children grasp concepts quickly while having a blast doing it. Seeing that spark made us want to embark on something equally audacious in spirit.

FringeArts: What made clothing the right vehicle?

Matthew Payne and Shayna Ward: We wanted to try something where the training session made more of an impact than the 2 two-hour sessions the kids received in Haircuts by Children before they started giving free haircuts to people.

As it turns out, remaking someone’s outfit is harder than cutting their hair. Fashion Machine requires more training (12 hours). Part of that time is spent discussing where our clothes come from, the state of the fashion industry, and how new clothes are presented to the public. So the kids who train with us learn how images are manipulated and what they can do to break or better this cycle.

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A Guide to Megapolis Audio Festival, Pt. 4: Installations and Digital Works

Posted September 14th, 2017

From September 16-17 the fifth Megapolis Audio Festival will descend upon Philadelphia, drawing world class musicians, sound artists, radio producers, and all around audio adepts to join the artistic frenzy that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Much like the 2017 Festival’s program, Megapolis’ schedule of events might appear a little daunting at first glance, so to help you navigate it we at the FringeArts Blog are going to break it all down for you into some easily digestible categories. Follow these links to Parts 1 (sound tours), 2 (performances), and 3 (workshops).

For our final installment, we’re looking at installations and digital works from artists who approach sound through a multitude of different avenues. Many of these artists use sound as a medium explore everything from the overlooked sounds of our daily lives, to Misophonia, to the Jewish Viennese exile during the Holocaust. Some, on the other hand, have created glorious, thought-provoking, and purely multi-sensory works.

 

Installations

The Philadelphia Embassy of the Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV)
Mike Bullock & Linda Gale Aubry
Sept 16-17 @ A surprise location
The Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland (KREV) were founded in 1992 by Swedish artists Carl Michael von Hausswolff (King Michael I) and Leif Elggren (King Leif I) and occupies all border territories as well as liminal states and virtual territories. Excited for Megapolis to begin, the Philadelphia Embassy of this great nation would like to celebrate the festival’s arrival. Ambassador Mike Bullock (who is also a composer, writer and intermedia artist) and Minister of Ornamentation Linda Gale Aubry (also a musician and a multimedia artist) will appear at some point during the festival, with appropriate pageantry, to give renditions of the multifarious KREV National Anthem.

 

Filtered Ears
Scott Allison
Sept 16 & 17, 10am-5pm @ PhillyCAM
A mic’d window becomes a filter for everyday, oft-ignored sounds. Channeled through tiny speakers powered by handmade, 1-watt amplifiers encourage guests to listen closely for these delicate, overlooked sounds. An installation created by graphic designer and sound explorer Scott Allison, who also makes music solo with electronics and in free rock outfits Sunburned Hand of the Man and Kohoutek.

 

Fascists, Lovers, and Other Lonely Ghosts
Brian House
Sept 16 & 17 @ PhillyCAM
Brian House is a Providence-based artist whose performances, installations, and interventions address our relationship to technology through rhythm. This particular installation deals with notions of synchronicity, conflict, and transmission. On a screen small entities beep and flash like fireflies “listening” to each other. Based on proximity, they will fall in and out of unison. Viewers can disrupt their relationships by moving them around to create a cascade of rhythms.

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A Guide to Megapolis Audio Festival, Pt. 3: Molding Sounds

Posted September 13th, 2017

From September 16-17 the fifth Megapolis Audio Festival will descend upon Philadelphia, drawing world class musicians, sound artists, radio producers, and all around audio adepts to join the artistic frenzy that is the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Much like the 2017 Festival’s program, Megapolis’ schedule of events might appear a little daunting at first glance, so to help you navigate it we at the FringeArts Blog are going to break it all down for you into some easily digestible categories. Follow these links to Parts 1 (sound tours), 2 (performances), and 4 (installations and digital works).

For Part 3 we’ll be taking a look at workshops where pass holders can get hands on experience with some complex hardware, learn more about the art of radio storytelling, and more.

 

Voltage is Sound, Voltage is Drawing
Tim Nohe
Sept 16, 11am @ PhillyCAM
This hands on, all ages workshop encourages participants to experiment with live technological art to create mathematically derived music and drawings. Led by artist, composer, and educator Tim Nohe, the workshop is rooted in expressive drawing, fascinating mathematical discoveries of the 19th century, and the “switched-on” synth music of the 1960s. Participants will experiment with a range of electronic tools from various eras. Compose electronic drawings on an ‘80s era Vectrex game box by controlling a modular synthesizer. Utilize wireless infrared controllers, iPad apps, and touch sensors to shape sounds and draft kinetic drawings.

 

Blinks, Bleeps, and Bits in the Wild: Breaking the boundaries of littleBits
Ed Bear and Monty Kim
Sept 16, 1pm @ Community College of Philadelphia
littleBits makes technology kits composed of electronic building blocks that empower everyone to create inventions, large and small. To go really large, however, requires some experience, which this workshop will provide. Led by littleBits designers Ed Bear and Monty Kim, participants will be introduced to basic programming, soldering, and design skills. They will learn how to unlock the powerful control, audio synthesis, programming, and connectivity of littleBits to build large multi-channel sound systems, interactive LED sculptures, Bluetooth controlled motors or generators, and whatever else they can invent. No experience necessary.

 

Makin’ Radio Ravioli
Olivia Bradley-Skill
Sept 16, 1pm @ PhillyCAM
New York based radio producer and sound artist Olivia Bradley-Skill breaks down the nuts and bolts of cut-ups and sound collage and discusses how different sounds marinate together to tickle the ears and echo the extremes of our subconscious. Utilizing sound effects, cut-up speech, and music, nonsense will turn from goofy to maniacal, organic to robotic, and the other way around. At the end participants will build their own collages that create new meanings and flavors.

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A Good Balance of Comfort and Discomfort: An Interview with Steven Dufala

Posted September 12th, 2017

This week, two Philly Fringe favorites are returning to the Festival with two very different shows. Absurdist theater artist Geoff Sobelle will mount HOME on September 13, an ambitious new piece that ruminates on the transitory nature of dwelling, the impossible structural demands of a house, and the absurdity of making a home. Meanwhile, on September 14, theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips will premiere his latest work, A Billion Nights on Earth, a fantastical show for all ages that dives into the realms of parent–child relationships, as pair stumble through alternate realities in search of a beloved stuff whale. Though both of these shows are starkly different, they do have one thing in common. That would be artist Steven Dufala.

Dufala has been creating work in a variety of media for decades now. He has regularly collaborated with his brother Billy, under the name The Dufala Brothers, and together their work—often humorous, hyperbolic reimaginings of everyday or iconic items—has been exhibited widely. They’ve also organized absurdist artistic happenings, including a toilet-trike race through Old City during the 2005 Fringe Festival.

Recently, Steven Dufala has lent his exceptional talents to some ambitious works of theater, designing sets and making some larger than life visions a reality. Perhaps most notable among these collaborations was his work on Geoff Sobelle’s widely lauded show The Object Lesson, which had its premiere during the 2013 Fringe Festival and has since been taken all over the world. Turning theaters into storage spaces with boxes stacked high to the ceiling and filled with the usual household wares, the kind of miscellanea that does little but collect dust but somehow stays with you for years, as well as some more surreal keepsakes—”moss to mystic” designated actual moss with a strong whiff of incense, “acorn collection” ought to be self explanatory—his design and installation work on the show was critical to achieving its uncanny yet strikingly down to earth vibe.

We recently caught up with Dufala to learn more about his artistic practice and what it’s been like splitting his time between these two aesthetically divergent shows.


FringeArtsTell us a bit about your background. 

Winslow Fegley in A Billion Nights on Earth

Steven Dufala: I grew up in south Jersey, the middle of five boys in a creative household. Our parents were pianists and teachers, and all the brothers make things. So I’ve always been making things.

FringeArtsWhat was the Philadelphia arts community (or communities) like when you first arrived at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts? 

Steven Dufala: I used to like to say the scene was mostly living rooms and basements, and I guess that’s still kind of true, but everything was really DIY. Pig Iron was making shows in basements, the best music was at peoples houses, the best parties, the best art shows didn’t really look like shows, but were kind of one or two night show/parties. Old City was kind of too fancy, and no one really went north of Spring Garden. 

When I got to Philly, I didn’t go straight to the academy, I was at UArts for two years in film and animation. That basically cracked open a whole world of creativity I’d never really explored and that’s why I went to PAFA—to try and get a better foundation for making things in general.

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Living a Billion Nights: An Interview with Michael and Winslow Fegley

Posted September 10th, 2017

This week sees the premiere of A Billion Nights on Earth, the latest work from acclaimed theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips in collaboration with artist Steven Dufala. The show—appropriate and ideal for audiences of all ages—follows a father and son as they venture into their fridge in search of a beloved stuffed whale and find themselves on a spectacular quest through space and time. With stunning scenic work by Dufala and Phillips, taking inspiration from the shapeshifting nature of Kabuki theater design, the piece is a dazzling, ever-evolving work of visual art and a touching, imaginative dive into the realms of parent–child relationships, exploring their varying perspectives on reality.

If you find the relationship between the father and son characters deeply palpable, it might be because stars Michael and Winslow Fegley are father and son. And also exceptionally talented performers. Michael Fegley has been working in theater and film for decades now, as has his wife Mercedes, and now all three of their children are following in their footsteps.

I caught up with Michael and Winslow to learn a little more about their experiences performing, how this collaboration with Phillips came about, and what it’s like living in the fantastical world of A Billion Nights on Earth.


FringeArtsTell us a little about your performance backgrounds.

Michael: I’m a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA and have been working professionally for over twenty years. I’ve performed extensively in New York and Philadelphia in works ranging from classical to the avant-garde, including the Off-Broadway production of Small Potatoes.

Winslow: I’ve been doing plays and movies for a while now. Plus my whole family acts, and I watch them working all the time. I’ve learned a lot, and I like working with my dad.

FringeArtsIs there a strong theater or performance community in Allentown?

Michael: Allentown has the wonderful, talented people of the Civic Theatre of Allentown, where our family has been a part of productions for years. Winslow, like his sister August and brother Oakes, have all taken many turns on that stage. However, it is a non-equity house, so I have to find work in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Last year I was in the world premiere of The Ballad of Trayvon Martin at Freedom Theatre here in Philadelphia.

Winslow: I like working in Allentown, but it’s cool when we get to go to new places and work in different theaters.

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Making Art in 2017: Paige Lizbeth Morris on Something Blue

Posted September 9th, 2017

Photo by Stephanie Price.

Name: Paige Lizbeth Morris

Show in 2017 Festival: Something Blue

FringeArtsTell us about your show.

Paige Lizbeth MorrisSomething Blue is a body of work that I have been developing since 2013. The concept evolved from my own personal experiences in heteronormative relationships, as well as an assessment of my sisters’ relationships in comparison to my own. I am also inherently curious about the media’s portrayal of women in romantic settings where women are represented as though they are in a constant and endless search for love, and how their obsessive tendencies interfere with their perceived biological aspirations. Through research on the scientific and sociological aspects of human intimacy, I intend to create narratives of love, loss, hope, and regret. My installations utilize the power of objects to activate familiar feelings while raising questions about how we want to be perceived.

FringeArtsHow have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year? 

Photo by Stephanie Price.

Paige Lizbeth Morris: I think the biggest obstacle I have to tackle when making is myself and my own critiques of my work. As a method to practice making, I assign myself five-minute sculptures, setting up different parameters that I have to work within, such as a theme or types of materials. Doing this has made me quicker and more confident in making. It has also allowed me to be more welcoming to the idea of listening to my instincts and understanding that sometimes it may make more sense for me to create based off of my emotions instead of my own critical analysis.

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Making Art in 2017: Sally Kong on Kongputational Doodle

Posted September 7th, 2017

Name: Sally Kong

Company: Blue Sky Studios

Show in 2017 Festival: Kongputational Doodle

FringeArts: Tell us a bit about your show.

Sally Kong: I was fascinated by math equations and algorithms that can produce many distinctive variations in shape and personality when different numbers are plugged in, even when their underlying logic remains exactly the same. I wanted to create an interface to play around with these formulas and explore their unpredictable and often beautiful outcomes.

FringeArts: How have your interests in or approach to art making changed in the last year?

Sally Kong: This was my first time creating something new on a daily basis. For 10 days, I spent around 3-5 hours everyday designing, coding, testing, and playing with a completely new Kongputational Doodle. I am used to making random things out of spontaneous bursts of maker energy, so working on something consistently was a challenge in both idea generation and discipline. But I love what came out of it and I want to continue to work on more projects routinely in the future!

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2017 Festival Spotlight: FringeArts ~After Dark~

Posted September 7th, 2017

This ain’t your grandma’s Fringe. Join us for some of the raunchiest, rowdiest, wildest shows at this year’s Fringe Festival. Hire a babysitter and leave your kids at home because these shows are decidedly NOT family friendly. Viewer discretion advised. 

Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret @ FringeArts
Martha Graham Cracker

The hairy-chested, fake eyelash-laden alter-ego of thespian Dito Van Reigersberg performs a balls-to-the-wall drag cabaret. Backed by her stellar band and with her killer voice, Martha Graham Cracker takes you on a raucous, joyous, uninhibited ride around her world.
“The Drag Queen King of Philadelphia.” The Philadelphia Inquirer
More info and tickets here.

 

 

Bye Bye Liver: The Philadelphia Drinking Play @ Evil Genius Beer Company
Happy Hour Live, LLC

Two parts sketch comedy, One part drinking games: Mixed and served! Come party with us for a night you might remember with interactive drinking games between comedic romps about the drinking experience. Ticket includes your first beer from Evil Genius! More info and tickets here.

 

The Groom’s a Fag; The Bride’s a Cunt; The Best Man’s a Whore; and the Maiden of Honor (Just) Hung Herself in the Closet @ The Beard Cave at St. Mary’s Church
On The Rocks

Daniel is pretty gay, but he’s marrying Nora. Nora is a virgin that wants her wedding night to be a sexual awakening. Shit gets fucked up. A song, a dance, an image, a poem all wrapped in a sloppy burrito of a play about glamping, hookers, the Easter Bunny, cocaine, Emma Stone, hauntings, and the horrors of commitment. More info and tickets here.

 

KINK HAÜS @ The Latvian Society
Gunnar Montana

Gunnar Montana transports us once again, this time to a brutal underground nightclub where no fucks are given, and fierceness is always welcome. Fantasy, fetish, and carnal desire are all in fashion so leave your inhibitions at home because inside KINK HAÜS, anything goes. That is, if you can get past the doorman. More info and tickets here.

 

 

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Dada Down South: Barry Rowell talks about his play Floydada

Posted August 30th, 2017

Barry Rowell

How do you combine dusty plains, small towns, and pre-surrealism reactionary art? In Barry Rowell’s Floydada, theater, music, and puppet projection present two sisters, one a prodigal artist who has gained fame in the big cities, the other stationary in the town for years and years. The homecoming sister brings Dada art along with her, and the two scheme to present a Dada cabaret for their small town.

Barry Rowell hails from Fort Worth, Texas, and is now the playwright and co-founder of Peculiar Works in New York City. The Obie-award winning group has been producing interdisciplinary and engaging art since 1993. The work is avant-garde in a way that mirrors the post World War I Dada movement. Dada art, poetry, and cabarets were collages of strange, mis-matching objects and images, from toys to toilets. Floydada does the same, bringing together revolutionary anti-art, a host of different disciplines (including Leila Ghaznavi’s whimsical puppet projections), and small town Americana. Barry has been writing plays for decades, and loves to bring together seemingly-disparate elements into one, cohesive work. We were able to chat with him about his origins as an artist, and the strange, wonderful world of Floydada.

FringeArts: Where are you from, and how did you first get involved in the arts?

Barry Rowell: I grew up in Fort Worth, TX, but I was born in Odessa — which is what most people picture when they think Texas: flat, dusty plains with oil pump jacks as far as the eye can see. I saw my first play, Through the Looking Glass, at Odessa College’s replica of Shakespeare’s Globe and I was hooked. My dad had done theater at Odessa College — my grandmother said that she cried and cried when he died as Lenny in Of Mice and Men “because he was just so stupid.” There were several theaters in Fort Worth when I was growing up: we saw Casa Mañana Summer Musicals, Shakespeare in the Park (you sat on a hillside and the stage was built out of an old WPA-era picnic building), and my mother worked at Texas Christian University so I got to see all of the theater department productions there. I made my professional acting debut at Fort Worth’s Stage West while I was in college. It’s always been a very strong arts community.

Catherine Porter and Nomi Tichman in Floydada

FringeArts: Who are some artists that you look up to?

Barry Rowell: I’m blown away by (and a little envious of) artists whose work is intensely physical: Pig Iron, of course, Elevator Repair Service, Yanira Castro (whom Peculiar Works has produced a few times—and she’s as wonderful to work with as her work is to watch), Nicole Canuso, Geoff Sobelle, The Bang Group. I’ve had the good fortune to work with Lake Simons, a gifted performer and object theater/puppet artist here in NYC (and Fort Worth, too). My friend Howard Fishman is both a fantastic singer/songwriter and a talented theater artist—his piece about The Donner Party, We Are Destroyed, is hauntingly beautiful. We saw James Thierrée perform two years ago (he’s a choreographer and Charlie Chaplin’s grandson) and he’s amazing: it was some of the most remarkable physical performance I’ve ever seen. I wish I could write poetic plays as Ruth Margraff and Mac Wellman do. And we’ve been seeing shows in the Fringe here in Philadelphia for years and those have been some of my favorite shows ever: Bruce Walsh’s Chomsky vs Buckley 1969; New Paradise Laboratories’ Rrose Selavy Takes a Lover in Philadelphia; Across by Mark LordAnti-Salon (Antigone in a beauty salon)…I could go on and on.

FringeArts: When did you start writing plays?

Barry Rowell: My bachelor’s degree is from TCU and I did a year of graduate work at the University of Texas in Austin where I studied acting but I took as many history and criticism classes with Oscar Brockett as I could—he influenced the work I do now more than any other professor I had.

I started writing plays because I was producing a second stage series at a long-gone Off-Off Broadway company and the playwright who was supposed to write our debut show dropped out at the last minute. The artistic director said I’d have to cancel and I said, “Like hell I will.” So I made an adaptation of Dracula that combined texts from the novel, a medical textbook, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying, and some of my original writing into an abstract collage piece set in a hospital in which the vampire (who never appears) symbolizes the characters’ fears of death. A year later, I went back and rewrote it (the first draft took me about 2 weeks—it was very rough!) and Before I Wake became the inaugural production of Peculiar Works Project in 1993.

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East Meets West, Old Meets New: The Dreamlike Beauty of Hua Hua Zhang’s Experimental Puppetry

Posted August 16th, 2017

Hua Hua Zhang with a puppet from White Nights

You enter a room and are surrounded by translucent white. There are strange, undulating formations, and a strange, ghostly light filters down from a hidden source. You feel as if you are on the surface of the moon. Welcome to White Nights, the newest production by Hua Hua Zhang of Visual Expressions. Hua Hua has been working in puppetry for more than thirty-five years, creating productions that are unique in their style and dazzling in their beauty. She aims to combine Eastern and Western art in her work, as well as old traditions with contemporary styles. Her work breaks the boundaries that have defined puppetry for generations, combining it with poetry, visual art, dance, theater, and music. White Nights is an experimental work, a series of dreamlike scenes that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways by the audience, all aiming for a path toward peace of mind. A half-an-hour preview of the show is being shown during the 2017 FringeArts Festival. The final show happens in November.

Images in White Nights make use of individual characters, some of them curious, others in love, others lonely. Produced in the large gallery space of the Asian Arts Initiative, the setting is a giant desert, based on the Chinese poem Night. The audience sits on the ground, around a small “pool of water,” surrounded by pods that serve as Chinese lanterns and shadowy silhouettes from Chinese ink paintings, as well as symbols of a moon and a sun. The puppeteers perform around the audience, who may interact with their movements. Musicians Bhob Rainy and Gamin Kang are also present, playing live music and interacting with the narratives. Four puppet performers, who have been trained in the style developed by Hua Hua, use the stylized movements of traditional Chinese performance, but use the puppets in an entirely different way, showing their entire bodies and moving with their objects. Interactions between the performers and the audience, and between the puppet performers and their puppets, cause constant questioning of their roles: the performer wonders, “Am I manipulating this puppet, or is the puppet manipulating me?” while the audience asks, “Am I watching the show, or am I a part of it?”

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Whispers from the Wall: The Silk Graffiti of Aubrie Costello

Posted August 4th, 2017

Walking down many streets in Philadelphia is like wandering an art gallery for graffiti. The tags of artists like SAGA, KAD, and LAZZ fill the walls with a calligraphy that has become a unique Philly handstyle. These, along with colorful street art projects, have made the city a vibrant center for the growth and evolution of graffiti, some even becoming three dimensional installations. You may spot some of these words made of flickering strands of fabric hanging from a wall, a fence, or a bridge. This is the work of “silk graffiti” artist Aubrie Costello, who uses long strips of Dupioni silk to write phrases around the city. Although the pieces are often large, they feel intimate, like their speaker is whispering to passersby. Some of her work is hung on the streets, while other pieces reside in nature, and others still have migrated into gallery spaces. This year, she is collaborating with dancers Jess Noel, Leslie Davidson, and Fatima Adamu in an interdisciplinary production, Show Me What You Want Me To See, or SWMYWMTS. The dance performance will take place inside a gallery with its walls covered in silk writing. An accompanying film by Lendl Tellington follows the trajectory of a romance between Jess and Leslie in the apartment of Victoria Prizzia, which is similarly filled in Aubrie’s silk calligraphy. This is interspersed with a separate story of love lost, performed by Fatima in a cemetery, as well as shots of more silk words and phrases fill a forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The work is also a collaboration with composer Josh Hey, who has created ghostly and powerful original score (with a few surprise musical guests!) This interdisciplinary performance is in an intimate gallery space, accompanied by a screening of the film. The curves in the silk are mimicked in the movements of the dancers, bringing through its ephemeral but powerful emotive voice.

Silk graffiti by Aubrie Costello in Gravy Gallery and Studio

Aubrie grew up in the quiet Pine Barrens, and went to a public school where the arts were nurtured. Without much to do in their area, the kids in this town chose to make art. “There were a lot of graffiti artists, and skate kids, and musicians that are in Philadelphia now in bands. So I guess we all had that deep itch to make stuff, and now we’re in a city that is more nurturing for that.” Aubrie’s father was a woodworker, who did everything with his hands. “He would even hand draw all of his estimates and specs and documents. He didn’t do anything on a computer.” Aubrie herself absorbed the love for “do-it-yourself” aspect of a project—if given the choice, she also prefers a more analogue approach to her work. She went to the Moore College of Art and Design in 2003, where she began studying fashion design before transitioning to a major in Drawing and Painting. While she loved drawing and making her own clothes, she couldn’t enjoy the business aspect of fashion. She threw herself instead into creating art installations, and began investigating new ways of using silk. One such installation involved a huge pile of high heeled shoes, bound, or “mummified,” in silk. She would cover the gallery wall with drawings that would mirror the installation. While she was at Moore, professors would often wander into students’ studio spaces to check out their work and give them advice. One such offering was from a professor who taught fiber arts, which she had never even taken. “She came into my studio one day, and I was using silk very differently. I was stretching it on canvas stretcher bars. She said she liked it, but she said ‘You’re not letting the fabric speak for itself.’ And that was one of the things that stuck with me, I actually think about that to this day. Sometimes I want to do more to the fabric, but then I think back to what she said. The fabric alone can have its own emotive quality.”

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In “Urgent Care,” The Colored Girls Museum Offers Itself as a Sanctuary and First Responder

Posted July 28th, 2017

“Chamber” by Joy Ude and Petra Floyd

Walking down Newhall Street in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, it’s hard to tell that one of these houses is not like the others. After a moment, you’ll find a wooden sign for The Colored Girls Museum (TCGM) outside of a 128-year-old Victorian twin. Since 2015, TCGM has been quietly redefining the role of museums in Philadelphia. The house is the home of the founder and executive director of the museum, Vashti Dubois. She founded the museum as a celebration of women of color, as well as a living memoir and sanctuary. Michael Clemmons is the curator for the museum, and has known and worked with Vashti for many years. “I think that what our museum does is very unique, distinct from everything else that’s out there,” he says. “In many ways, it’s the only museum of its kind.” From July 29 to July 30, the museum will be presenting its last showings of the current show, Urgent Care: A Good Night’s Sleep, before closing to prepare for its Fringe Festival event, Urgent Care: A Social Care Experience.

TCGM is telling a story that few other art spaces are, in a way that uses art as a place for conversation. The museum is a living monument “for the ordinary and extraordinary colored girl,” bringing her voice out highlighting her concerns. “When you shine the light on anything,” says Vashti, “you begin to notice its extraordinary qualities, but you have to look at it first.” The museum’s exhibitions respond to current social issues, and the “Urgent Care” shows reflect heightened concerns for women of color after the 2016 election. There is a huge variety of beautiful and fascinating objects throughout the house, which are a conglomeration of  historical artifacts and new works of art. Artists who work with the museum either submit their own work, curate a space, or add objects from their own past or family history that are significant to the space’s collective memoir. “Those objects have a story that is important to the woman submitting them,” says Michael, “which is curated into the space.” The museum leaders and staff refer to the museum with she/her pronouns, speaking of the space as a person, rather than a stagnant building. Vashti explains how this reflects the moving and changing aspects of the museum: objects come and go, and rooms within her walls change to reflect changing times.  “The concept in a way is very simple,” says Michael. “In a sense, it’s a story that hasn’t been told, and it should be told. It’s very much a home, it’s relaxing, and it’s a different kind of museum experience.”

Second Floor Bedroom, or “Recovery Suite” in “Urgent Care”

Walking into Salon 1, on the first floor, the museum already feels entirely different from any other galleries. Rather than white walls and echoing hallways, this is a home. Salon 1 is a part of the semi-permanent collection, and many works of art were a part of the inaugural exhibition in 2015. The paintings on the wall are hung in a “salon style,” covering the space, and are interspersed with small statues, old portrait photographs, and personal artifacts, including a singular knee-high tie-dye boot. There are very few name cards on the walls— instead, everyone who comes into the museum is brought on a tour. Through conversation, guests learn which paintings on the wall are by Barbara Bullock, a celebrated African American artist in Germantown that Michael described as almost a “mother figure” in the Philadelphia arts community. There are quilts from fiber artist Toni Kersey, and doll figures by Lorrie Patrice Payne. The experience is intimate and allows for conversations about the art — often, with the artists themselves.

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#AllYourMarketing All Day, Every Day

Posted September 24th, 2016

Since the 2016 Fringe Festival opened on September 9, our indomitable marketing department hasn’t just been getting all the words out about it, they’ve been participating in it. #AllYourMarketingpart of Digital Fringe, found the audacious trio of Dan Comly, Anna Kroll, and Hallie Martenson live-streaming themselves at their desk throughout each long, arduous Festival work day. Every crisis, every triumph, every sandwich was on display for all the world to see. Sadly, just as the Festival must come to an end, so must this bold exercise in transparency. The stream will be going offline after today, but if you missed any of the excitement check out some highlights below.

things-are-happening-happy-festival-hallie

THINGS ARE HAPPENING. Happy Festival. — Hallie

listening-to-hold-music-featuring-nick-anna

Listening to hold music [featuring Nick Stuccio]. — Anna

lonely-saturday-in-the-office-keep-me-companyhallie

Lonely Saturday in the office. Keep me company? — Hallie

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Inhabiting habitus

Posted September 23rd, 2016

There’s something special happening across the street from FringeArts. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now at Municipal Pier 9 until October 10, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. Visitors have found themselves enraptured by the dreamlike beauty of this interactive interior landscape. Here are just some of the recent posts showing off the serene spectacle of this must visit installation.

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Interior Landscapes: An Interview with Ann Hamilton

Posted September 20th, 2016

Ann Hamilton is a visual artist known for her large-scale multimedia installations, flowing fabrics and the immersive atmosphere of her work. Hamilton has filled Pier 9 along the Delaware River with a field of spinning curtains, creating an interior landscape within which, suspended in time, a visitor can be both lost and held. habitus, organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and part of the 2016 Fringe Festival, is on view now, free and open to the public during scheduled hours. habitus also includes a corresponding exhibition of historical objects—including literary commonplace books, textile sample books, dolls, and needlework portfolios—at The Fabric Workshop and Museum from Saturday, September 17, 2016 to Sunday, January 8, 2017. We caught up with Hamilton earlier this summer to discuss her interest in fabric, Philadelphia’s textile history and the character of Pier 9.


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Ann Hamilton (photo by Michael Mercil, courtesy of Ann Hamilton Studio)

FringeArts: What was the inspiration for this installation?

Ann Hamilton: The Fabric Workshop and Museum began as a place for making. Initially they made a home for students, interns and artists to silkscreen. Pulling color across a screen transformed the surface of a white cloth.  The process repeated made a whole room and changed the way you feel. It is an institution that like FringeArts trusts artists and believes in the power of acts of making and transformation and this is an inspiration.

More specifically, the Fabric Workshop and Museum is rooted in the history of cloth, textile related processes and productions. They make a place for artists to explore and extend their vocabularies, to ask “what-if?” My history also begins with a cloth on my lap and so this project began in response to our shared legacy and collaborations by exploring Philadelphia based textile collections and local industries who have been in production over several generations. Littlewood Dyers does vat dying of raw fiber for a whole host of clients including the intense purple in a Disney costumes and the deep blue/black of Navy wools. The several hour tour of Littlewood, a highlight along with the loom and weaving production at Langhorne Carpet Company—where the scale the reeling of thread and the looms that have been in operation for decades—are inspiration for several project to come. Watching a raw material become a single thread, join other thread to become a warp or weft of a cloth or carpet holds for me all the possibilities for making; sewing and writing are for me two parts of the same hand. In the former the hand directs with subtle sureness a needle through a cloth up, down, up then down again and again and again, a running succession, the trail of thread making one out of what was once two. The pace is regular like walking, like writing. It keeps the body busy so the mind can wander.

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Ann Hamilton, (habitus • doll ) Doll, 1800–1820. Papier-mâché; Wood; Linen; Cotton; Paint; Silk. Courtesy of Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Gift of Katherine Gahagan, Michael H. du Pont, and Christopher T. du Pont in memory of A. Felix du Pont, Jr., 1999.19.1.

I have long been drawn to textile sample books—the cloth fragments, the hand written notes, the folio sized pages, their gorgeous unintentional compositions, and find in them a relation to the fragments of writing, inspiring to the collector, intentionally gathered into a commonplace book. The liquidity of the copied out text in the handwritten books, or the cut and paste of more contemporary versions are sources stitched into thinking just as the bits of cloth pasted into the textile books imagine a larger cloth or garment. We were shown beautiful swatch, sample, and dye books in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, Winterthur Library, and Philadelphia University whose archives contain so much of the city’s textile history. The project will include examples from each of these collections. As well as commonplace books from Rosenbach Library, the Philadelphia Free library and others. The history and tactility of these objects began the project.

FA: What was the process from initial idea to installation? 

Ann Hamilton: A project always begins with an intuition, a hunch, a half formed question – these direct the research and through an associative and often circuitous process the project forms from trying to understand them. The challenge is to trust the process and remain open to change, to keep putting your needle down into the cloth and see what is drawn up from underneath. I suppose it is a little like fishing. You have to wait and see what you will find and in waiting you have to pay attention to everything.

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The CRUX of Digital Fringe

Posted September 8th, 2016

Before 2014 Andrew Cameron Zahn was looking for a studio space and a way to build relationships with other digital artists after completing his MFA. He came across a space too large to serve as a personal studio, and after some deliberation and conversation with colleagues and friends, Zahn created CRUXspace, Philly’s only New Media Art gallery.

Zahn and Brickley at CRUXspace

Zahn and Brickley at CRUXspace

“Most of our shows are experiments,” he laughs. In the two years since its opening the gallery has featured an exhibition of work by internet provocateur Molly Soda, a collaboration with Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program and several other shows exploring the boundaries of new technology. This Friday, as the Fringe begins, Zahn and Kim Brickley open the gallery’s doors for Digital Fringe @ CRUXspace.

After the success of last year’s premiere Digital Fringe there was one piece of feedback that many artists repeated: there should be a place for digital artists to meet, experience each other’s work. Echoing the interest of Digital Fringe Artists, Zahn and Brickley explain that having a physical space can be more impactful to audiences of digital art, that interaction with people in the space is nearly as important as interaction with the works of art themselves. They both agree that gallery openings are very important to them as ways of meeting interesting people and gaining new perspective on what they display. On the other hand, Brickley, head curator of CRUXspace, believes that “the beauty of digital art is that you can question traditional work, and physical location becomes obsolete.” Audiences around the world can participate in Philly Fringe as well as those who are able to make it to Kensington.crux

Zahn and Brickley curated some artists into Digital Fringe in an effort to present more interactive work, things that push the envelope. “There’s a performance element to interactive art,” Zahn explains in discussing the reason for collaboration with FringeArts. See the Digital Fringe display experiment at CRUXspace Friday, September 9.

–Emily Dombrovskaya

Exploring the contents of Room 21

Posted September 2nd, 2016
Above image: Ensemble view, Room 21, south wall, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 2016.

 

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Amedeo Modigliani, 
Italian, 1884–1920. 
Reclining Nude from the Back (Nu couché de dos), 1917.
 Oil on canvas,
 25 1/2 x 39 1/4 in. (64.8 x 99.7 cm).
 BF576, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

On September 9, Jace Clayton (aka DJ /rupture) will premiere his latest work Room 21 at the Barnes Foundation as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. Co-presented with the Barnes Foundation and curated by Lee Tusman in collaboration with Ars Nova Workshop, the site-specific performance is an inspired musical response to the artworks of Room 21 at the Barnes Foundation and Albert Barnes’ extensive record collection. Joining Clayton is an ensemble of more than a dozen musicians, including the Prometheus Chamber Orchestra, banjoist Ben Lee, Ethiopian Musician Gezachew Habtemariam and Pianist Emily Manzo, all wearing custom costumes handcrafted by fashion designer Rocio Salceda of Prellezo. This is a remarkable one night only event, an inspired engagement with one of Philadelphia’s most storied institutions. For more info and tickets click here.


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Austrian. Christ Carrying the Cross, c. 1460. Tempera and oil with gold and silver leaf on panel, 29 3/8 x 51 1/2 in. (74.6 x 130.8 cm). BF396, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

When Jace Clayton first found himself in Room 21 of the Barnes Foundation he was struck by what seemed to him an extremely personal organizational logic. It’s a well known fact that Albert Barnes held strong to his personal, cultivated aesthetic theories, but never imposed them on his visitors beyond his arrangements. Presenting his collection without the curatorial commentary museum attendees often expect, he created spaces for viewers to approach each piece free from explicit outside mediation. Room 21, Clayton found, encapsulated this kind of aggressive formalism. With one hundred and thirty pieces contained within its four walls, the small space intermingles renowned masters and unidentified artisans, the functional and the ornamental, the sacred and the profane.

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Possibly Bamana or Marka peoples. Mask, late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, resin, 24 x 7 5/8 x 6 7/8 in. (61 x 19.4 x 17.5 cm). A224. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

One of the room’s most famous work, Amedeo Modigliani’s Reclining Nude from the Back, hangs adjacent to and across from various Northern European religious paintings possibly dating back to the 15th century. Directly across from the nude by the young artist of whom Barnes was an early champion, is the large tableau Christ Carrying the Cross. This juxtaposition may have offended some of the foundation’s Christian visitors, and it’s amusing to imagine Barnes finding a punkish glee in creating it. Still, one must assume he knew exactly what he was doing as such curation is in line with his formalist leanings. It requires of viewers to divorce any beliefs they may hold that are irrelevant to the physical work itself.

BF641

William James Glackens. 
American, 1870–1938
. Eight Figures, c. 1910
. Black crayon with gouache on brown wove paper
, 12 1/8 x 14 3/8 in. (30.8 x 36.5 cm)
. BF641, The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Image © 2016 The Barnes Foundation

It is in part this disregard for context that makes the foundation, and Room 21 in particular, such an anomalous gem among other art institutions. Where most curate their collections around specific artists, movements, or mediums, here visitors are treated to a trove of fine art and meticulously crafted objects from all over the world, side by side. In Room 21 alone, displayed among three separate cases are numerous 19th–early 20th century figures, masks, and tools from various African ethnic groups; adorning the wall space around notable paintings are an assortment of ornate bolts, keyhole escutcheons, tools, hinges, and latches, among other functional objects; and there are also elegant, handcrafted chairs placed around the perimeter. The space feels relative to how people let art inhabit their lives, which stands in opposition to much traditional curation that aims to convey contextual and historical narratives alongside the art. The only hints of narrative that exist in Room 21 suggest something far more personal.

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